HOUSTON — The idea originated during a family history conference, but it took a monotonous summer to really kick things into gear.
“After a month of boring summer vacation, we knew we wanted to do something fun and spiritual,” said 16-year-old Collin Sanford, one of the co-founders of a Houston youth family history group.
Sanford and best friend, Rylan Hair, attended the 2013 RootsTech Conference hosted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in March of that year. In a pursuit that has traditionally been dominated by individuals much older — such as their grandparents — these teenage boys were drawn to the idea of researching and finding ancestors.
“(The conference organizers) made genealogy sound awesome,” said Aaron Hair, older brother of Rylan. “We used to think that it was just for old people, but then we found out that family history as a whole is now more directed toward youth. The research is easier. The website is easier. The whole layout is so user-friendly.”
It was during the conference that the two friends both received the prompting to get going on family history work. They both decided, “It’s our chance to start something.”
“We wanted to send a message that we are the rising generation,” Sanford said.
Sanford set up a group through groupme.com, a group text-messaging app, inviting fellow students and friends to join a peer-run family history group. The young men discovered they were not alone in their desire to find ancestors. Fifteen teenagers — all from the Klein Texas Stake — attended that first group meeting. And the numbers keep growing. The group meets once a month, taking turns between the Hair and Sanford homes.
“We can’t really call it a meeting because we have so much fun," Rylan Hair said. "We started this group so we could bless others spiritually. We feel a sense of duty.”
“If we could share these blessings with so many people why not?” Aaron Hair added.
Every attendee brings a laptop to the meetings, and every month a new adult is invited to teach the group different aspects of family history work, such as how to find names and how to do indexing. The group members' goal is to find names at the monthly meetings and prepare them to be delivered to the temple the following week.
Group members explained that after organizing meetings around theater rehearsals, choir concerts and homework, the actual work is very easy.
So what is the trick to get high school students involved in genealogy? It seems it’s peer-to-peer advertising.
“If adults talk to youth about family history, we tend to tune them out,” Rylan Hair said. “But if a peer, someone your own age, is excited about this work, then it’s easier to get excited about it yourself.”
When asked what they have learned after doing family history research, Sanford responded, “It’s how much the Spirit has aided us. It’s awesome to see God’s hand (in this work)”
“You don’t need to know what you’re doing,” Rylan Hair said. “Just set a date, and then make the next meeting even better.”
Sanford added, “It’s the Nephi Nike: Just do it!”
Ramona Siddoway is a freelance writer who has published articles in Belgium, Angola and the United States. She lives with her husband in Houston. Read more at anauthenticpractice.com